'Dallas 6' case involving prisoners accused of starting riot in Pa. prison ends in mistrial
Prosecutors alleged the men acted up solely to elicit a response from correctional officers
By James Halpin
The Citizens' Voice
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Nearly six years after a notorious confrontation between inmates and guards at State Correctional Institution Dallas, the case against the final members of the “Dallas Six” ended in a mistrial Wednesday when a jury deadlocked on their guilt.
After about 3½ hours of deliberation, the jury forewoman told Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb the panel was hopelessly deadlocked on whether Andre Jacobs, 33, Carrington Keys, 35, and Duane Peter, 44, were guilty of rioting for blocking their individual cell doors with mattresses and blankets and refusing to surrender on April 29, 2010.
Gelb pressed about whether jurors would be able to agree with more time behind closed doors.
“No, we’re deadlocked,” the forewoman answered.
Gelb declared a mistrial, leaving unresolved a case that has divided watchers between those who see the defendants as civil rights activists and those who view them as unruly troublemakers who set out to provoke their captors.
Jurors declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
As they headed back to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in handcuffs, the defendants took the jury’s indecision as a victory that could prompt changes in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
“A win is a win,” Keys said.
“Maybe DOC change their policies, you know?” Jacobs said. “Do the right thing.”
Prosecutors alleged the men acted up solely to elicit a response from prison guards, who needed to clear the cells and search the defendants to ensure their safety as well as the security of the prison. The men were forcibly removed from their individual cells after extraction teams blasted them with pepper spray and forced open cell doors that had been jammed shut with fabric and other materials.
“That’s the last thing they want to do because it’s dangerous for everybody involved,” Assistant District Attorney Jim McMonagle said during closings Wednesday morning.
He argued that the inmates had taken legitimate avenues of lodging their complaints, such as lawsuits and grievances, but that by jamming their doors shut — and refusing as many as 13 orders to surrender — they were trying to get a rise out of the guards.
“They staged the incident,” McMonagle said. “They had all these problems. They wanted to make a point.”
The defendants maintained they barricaded themselves in their cells because they were afraid for their safety and they wanted to protest mistreatment at the hands of their jailers.
“That situation at SCI Dallas was toxic,” Jacobs, who represented himself, said during closing arguments.
During a trial that has lasted a week-and-a-half, the inmates alleged they were subject to extreme retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits against correctional officers and for cooperating with an investigation into prisoner mistreatment by the Philadelphia-based Human Rights Coalition.
They alleged they were denied access to the prison yard, showers, toilet paper and water, as well as subjected to assaults and harassment at the hands of correctional officers. Jacobs, who was serving time for helping an attempted escape, alleged a guard once spread word he was in prison for molesting a child.
Against that backdrop, the prisoners waged what Jacobs termed a “silent protest” in the prison’s restrictive housing unit to raise attention to their plight. They weren’t throwing things, yelling or instigating others — they merely covered their cell doors as they had before without being forcibly removed, Jacobs argued.
“Covering a cell door is not a crime,” Jacobs said.
Keys, who also represented himself, asserted that the guards in fact wanted to extract the prisoners from the cells because they were “thirsty for blood.”
Keys was facing additional charges of aggravated harassment by a prisoner for allegedly flinging his own feces at correctional officers raiding his cell. During his closing, he denied that, saying he didn’t have a cup they claimed he had and that he would have had to have been a “magician” to splash six officers at the angle they claimed to have been hit.
He did, however, acknowledge slathering himself in his own feces as a defense measure because the guards allegedly threatened to break his teeth. But Keys also argued that smearing one’s self with excrement is not illegal.
“It is not a criminal charge to protect myself from threats of violence,” Keys said.
Defense attorney Michael Wiseman, representing Peter, argued that for jurors to convict the defendants of rioting they would have to find they sought to coerce correctional officers into donning riot gear and storming their own cells.
“It is preposterous that they would want to coerce such a response,” Wiseman said.
During the jury’s deliberations, the panel posed several sets of questions to the court, seeking clarification on the elements of the riot statute and information about what punishment a prisoner handbook establishes for covering a cell door.
After having the case for only about an hour, the jury asked how long deliberations must continue if members could not agree. Gelb sent them back, but they remained deadlocked after a few hours more.
McMonagle said after the mistrial that he would discuss the case with District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and possibly other involved parties to determine whether to retry the case.
“We’ll have to sit down and meet, hopefully soon,” McMonagle said. “It’s not fair to either us or them to drag on our decision.”
The defendants are the final three members of the “Dallas Six” to resolve their cases. Anthony Kelly, 32, and Derrick Stanley, 45, previously entered pleas in the case, while Anthony Locke, 37, was convicted of a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct following a bench trial last year.
Copyright 2016 The Citizens' Voice